article

How Christmas Divides Us

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Contact us

We typically associate Christmas with peace, and that’s understandable. Isaiah prophesied that the child born to Mary would be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), and when the angels announced the birth of Christ to the shepherds, the heavenly hosts spoke of “peace among those with whom [God] is pleased” (Luke 2:14).  

Jesus Himself told people to “go in peace” after he had helped them in some miraculous ways (Mark 5:34; Luke 7:50; 8:48). And before He ascended to the Father, Jesus gave His disciples these words of comfort: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). 

At the same time, there were early indications that Christ’s coming would bring conflict. When Simeon grasped the newborn Christ in his arms, he gave Mary an unsettling forecast for this child’s future: 

Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:34–35) 

Jesus described the divisive effect of His coming in a similar way: 

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. (Mark 10:34)

 Even among family members, Jesus told them, He would be the dividing line (35–36). Fathers would follow Him, but not their sons. Daughters would confess Him as Lord, while their own mothers would be offended by Him. And this division would eventually extend much further than individual households. 

Jesus is the dividing line between entire belief systems, and His incarnation brings this reality to the surface. We are confronted with the all-important question, Who is this child? To understand how divisive this question is, consider how the belief systems below answer this question.  

Obvious Divisions [1]

Some belief systems deny Scripture’s teaching about Jesus in more obvious, straightforward ways. Their basic beliefs are worlds apart from historic Christianity. These are represented by the world religions listed below. 

Buddhists

Buddhists deny the existence of a creator God who relates to people personally. The idea that God would come, in the person of His Son, in order to dwell with us would be foreign to them. Some Buddhists might view Jesus as an Enlightened Master, but they would deny that He is the eternal Son of God.  

Hindus

Since Hinduism is a complex set of religions, there are likely a wide variety of views when it comes to Jesus. For some Hindus, accepting Jesus as a (little “g”) god or as a divine incarnation worthy of worship would not be a problem. However, no Hindu would agree with the apostle Peter’s claim about Jesus, namely, that “there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Muslims

Most Muslims have some level of respect and reverence for Jesus. However, they believe that Jesus was merely a prophet rather than the fully divine Son of God. That this child could in any sense be called “Lord,” as Elizabeth referred to Mary’s unborn child (Luke 1:43), would be unthinkable due to Islam’s fundamental confession of the oneness of their god, Allah. While Christians also confess that there is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Timothy 2:5), the God revealed in Scripture exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (three distinct, yet fully divine persons) (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Timothy 2:5). The incarnation therefore represents a major dividing line between Islam and Christianity. 

Subtle Divisions[2]

Other belief systems differ with Christianity in more subtle ways, sometimes using the same biblical vocabulary about Jesus while meaning something entirely different. Whether we’re talking about the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons, or the largely secular views of many of our unbelieving neighbors, Jesus continues to be a major point of division.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses, or JW’s, believe that Jesus was created as a lesser god who had a “prehuman existence as a mighty spirit creature.” They may refer to Him as God’s son, but not in a unique, divine sense of sonship (as per 1 John 4:9). For JWs, Jesus is God’s son only in the sense that Adam, the first human, is called God’s son (Luke 3:38). The incarnation, then, is not a celebration of the fact that the fully divine Son of God took on our humanity for our salvation.  

Mormons

When Mormons, also known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), talk about Jesus, they often sound a lot like Christians. However, like JWs, Mormons deny that Christ’s birth could be described as the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. They claim that Jesus is the firstborn spirit-child of the heavenly Father and a heavenly Mother. He is something like a secondary god (under God the Father) who does not possess deity in himself. Jesus only progressed to deity in the spirit world.  

In contrast to the beliefs of JWs and Mormons, John’s Gospel says that the Word who “became flesh” (1:14) was fully divine and uncreated, for He was “with God” in the beginning and He “was God” (1, emphasis added).[3] Or, as the Nicene Creed teaches, Jesus was “begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father.” Mary’s child can truly be called, in the fullest sense, Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). 

Your Unbelieving Neighbor

Finally, Jesus also divides us from those who don’t identify with a particular world religion or cult but who nonetheless have some respect for Him. This would include “cultural Christians,” i.e.,  those who identify with Jesus largely due to family or cultural background. Such people may speak of the “spirit of Christmas” and even display nativity sets, but their reflection on the birth of Christ is more of a sentimental exercise than an act of worship. For such people, Jesus may have been a loving teacher or an inspiring leader, but His death and resurrection are not our only hope of salvation.  

In the end, regardless of whether someone is an agnostic, a Muslim, or a Mormon, Jesus demands a response. And Christmas serves as an excellent opportunity for us to tell our unbelieving friends who He is and why He came. They will only find true peace when they gladly confess that the child born in Bethlehem was the fully human, fully divine Son of God, the “one mediator between God and men” (1 Timothy 2:5).

 

[1]See Secret Church 16, “A Global Gospel in a World of Religions,” for much of the information on world religions listed in this section.

[2] See Secret Church 17, “Cults and Counterfeit Gospels,” for much of the information about cults listed in this section.

[3] Jehovah’s Witnesses use the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which renders the latter part of John 1:1 as “…and the Word as a god.” However, this translation  (1) does not fit well with the theological and literary context of John 1 and (2) is not required by the Greek text.

David Burnette serves as the editor/writer for Radical. He lives with his wife and three kids in Birmingham, Alabama, where he serves as an elder at Philadelphia Baptist Church.
Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Contact us